Subject to current federal protections, if Endangered Species guidelines run their course and wolves are delisted, the animals would remain under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review program for five years. If the canines dropped below recovery goals, the service could conduct a status review.
“This legislation takes out all of that,” said Chris Colligan, wildlife advocate for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
A bipartisan group, including Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., is introducing the bill.
“It’s been eight years since wolves in Wyoming have met the federal government’s recovery goals, yet Washington (D.C.) has yet to hold up its end of the deal,” said Lummis in a press release Jan. 27. “Meanwhile, wolf populations are thriving in the West while ranchers and big game herds suffer.”
There are roughly 1,700 wolves in the Rocky Mountain region. That figure includes approximately 300 in Wyoming.
In 1988, the Northern Yellowstone elk herd was at 20,000 head. That number was down to 4,000 last year, according to National Park Service numbers, Hockhalter said.
Wyoming must manage its wildlife, including its predators, Hockhalter said.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has adjusted elk hunting quotas in some locations in response to reduced elk counts, and Hockhalter said he has heard rumors of more limited-quota elk hunt areas being considered.
Colligan, an elk hunter who lives in Jackson, said some hunt areas are above elk population objectives and some below. He said elk hunters must ascertain where elk numbers are high, attend Game and Fish season-setting meetings and plan their elk hunting accordingly.
Wildlife managers are endeavoring to adjust elk hunting harvests to protect elk population numbers, Colligan said.
“The balancing act is what everybody is striving to get at,” Colligan said.
Wyoming must manage its own wildlife, including predators such as wolves, Hockhalter said.
Lummis believes the Wyoming Game and Fish can maintain the wolf population, said her press secretary, Hayley Douglass.
Responding to a question via e-mail, Lummis said people on the ground in Wyoming have a better handle on wolf management than Washington, D.C. does.
“Here in Wyoming, we know that our local officials, land owners and experts in the state are the authorities on our wildlife and its management, not bureaucrats on the other side of the country,” Lummis said. “I am not convinced the president feels the same way.”
Hockhalter said it would be a long shot passing the bill, but a lot of politicians are behind it.
“I think we can get it pushed through,” Hockhalter said.
“I hope not,” Colligan said.
The bill’s political brush stroke is too broad, he said. Not only would it countermand wolf recovery and Endangered Species protection for wolves in the Rocky Mountain region, but also the entire lower 48 states, thus negating wolf recovery goals in places like the Great Lakes region or the Southwest, where the Mexican gray wolf population is struggling, Colligan said.
Hockhalter said judges are ruling in favor of wolves, and conservation groups are pushing to keep the canines under federal protection. Wyoming is getting short shrift by federal government wolf dictates. It’s time for a shift in policy to oblige Wyoming, he said. “I hope things go our way for once.”
If Endangered Species protection for wolves is scrapped, there will be no incentives for states to maintain a healthy wolf population, Colligan said.
“It seems like a political fix for some special interests,” Colligan said.